Building Intentional Teams


It's fairly common to find people, even team leaders, confusing the definition of a team.  


A group is a set of people with individual objectives who happen to share the same boss, or the same workplace, or be part of the same organisational unit. In a group, individuals might even have the same objectives - e.g.: in a sales force, everyone might have the same sales target to meet, but they may also compete against each other rather than cooperate.




A team is a group that works together toward a single, common objective. In fact, they might have different individual objectives, but those objectives contribute to the higher collective one. E.g. in a sales team, one person might make appointments, another provide technical sales support, another prepare a bid document, and another make the sale. But they are all accountable together for the sales and are not judged solely on individual objectives.

Many great team leaders understand the power of thinking through team interactions beforehand and maximizing them to increase productivity.  Extending this concept to team building means thinking through the positive possibilities of every team member, the collaborative outcomes of the team and the best possible results, then establishing a map leading to that destination.  Beyond that, intentional team builders represent the journey to excellence at every turn, constantly re-casting the vision with positive expectation that people who understand the destination will certainly want to go there.

The need is obvious to go beyond the latest version of the "offsite" for developing teamwork.  Everyone’s been through the “trust-fall” exercise, and we’ve probably all had enough of choosing cards with pictures on them and assigning meanings that help us express how we’re feeling about our team’s relationships and performance.

Banyan's Intentional Methodology

Assessing team dynamics:

More art than science, this consultative activity involves observing the team in the act of doing something, such as an interview process, planning an educational activity, resolving a disciplinary issue, or some other work-oriented task in which the team must interact and come to a decision.  Several questions are addressed in this observation time, including.

  • Who communicates directly with whom?
  • Who doesn't communicate with whom?
  • Who emerges as the team’s de-facto leader? (Every team has one)
  • What occult (hidden) communication paths exist and how are they used?
  • What are the communication and problem-solving styles of the participants?
  • What issues are "talked around," but never addressed directly?
  • What obstacles exist to ownership and participation in a common goal-set?


From this simple exercise the consultant will make an initial assessment to give functional, working answers to the following elements of team dynamics:

  • What is the trust level that exists between team members?
  • What is the trust level that exists between individual team members and the organizational leader?
  • What is the trust level that exists between the individual team members and the de-facto leader?
  • What communication barriers exist and how can they be addressed?
  • Do any destructive dynamic processes exist within the team's interaction?
    What is the organizational leader doing to maintain (or undermine) intentional leadership?


Following on from this beginning, the consultant works with the organizational leader to accomplish 4 very intentional and logical goals:

  1. 1.     Establish Ownership of Shared Goals.  Everyone becomes a stakeholder.
    After spending time developing an intentional strategy and a set of positively expected outcomes, the organizational leader and the consultant proceed to this new step in team development:  Getting buy-in.  In this critical phase of team-building, each person involved has several opportunities to articulate and demonstrate their intention to move toward the goals set by the organizational leader and by the team in collaboration.

  2. 2.     Identify & Remove Inhibitors to Achievement.  At this stage, everyone is still not 100% sold on the vision for what can be produced and enjoyed by a team fully committed to positive goals.  An important part of the process is for the consultant and the organizational leader to establish a baseline buy-in value for each team member and an upward trajectory leading to the goal of complete buy-in.  This culminates in a clearly outlined set of principles, practices and activities custom developed for each team member, designed to end in bringing the member to complete buy-in.

  3. 3.     Introduce Achievement Enablers (awareness, resources, information, processes, etc.) to help achieve the collaborative goal.  The consultant works within the scope of team development to provide positive incentives to further growth and production.

  4. 4.     Utilize Team-Building Processes (e.g.: health checks, performance management, 360 feedback, leadership training and individual coaching) in the correct sequence to gradually raise performance, akin to climbing a ladder one rung at a time.

7 Reasons Team Building Offsites Fail:

  1. In many cases, advanced techniques are used before there is a lack of buy-in to the team's goals. (Commitment to team building activities is predicated on commitment to a common, shared goal.)
  2. Interventions are made out of sequence (e.g.: a poorly defined structure, or roles and responsibilities will undermine attempts to improve interpersonal relationships) 
  3. Many offsite team-building events fail to add any real, lasting value because the approach taken to team building is too generic (all  team-building activities should be designed to meet specific outcomes)
  4. There is sometimes a lack of understanding of the difference between a group and a team (team building with a group can be counter-productive, detracting from individual performance without any compensatory collective benefit)
  5. Not enough attention is given the offsite.  Planners and implementers allow the exercises and activities to be seen as "just another thing" management is doing to get better results.  This attacks buy-in and produces cynicism.  
  6. There is a lack of assessment of the team (diagnosis is required in order to develop effective intervention strategies) Objectives.
  7. In the Forming stage (cf: Tuckman's  model of team development) individuals are committed, at most, to their own objectives. Members will only invest time in Storming activities if they think it is worth it - that is, if the collective objectives are seen as important as their own.  A common mistake is for individuals to think that being committed to their own objectives means they are committed to the team.

As in the age-old metaphor that says a house must be built on rock, the bedrock  foundation of all team building, whether in business, sports or whatever, is commitment to a common, shared goal.  The difference is plain to see.  When a group of people lacks this foundation, the leader must work to build it.  There is no other method, no great plan and no amount of charisma or leadership that will stand in for it.  When a group possesses this most important asset, a common, shared goa, the leader's job is easy, and any one of hundreds of different leadership styles and programs will work to bring the team to a sharper focus and greater productivity.  A common goal, without which, a team is just a group, is the foundation that must be sought first, above all else.


The choice of intervention strategy depends not only on the current state of teamwork, but on the nature of the people. For highly motivated individuals who already share even just the beginnings of a common goal, it can be enough to set a high level direction and then allow individuals to contribute to its detailed development. For others, whose natural motivations are more individual, there may need to be objective incentives that require teamwork.


In some instances, where high levels of teamwork,(cf., Tuckman's stages of team development) cannot be achieved, they may only be effective in the Forming stage, which is highly dependent on leadership.


Interventions, when they appropriate, fall into four main areas:
1.      Individual - Development of individual skills; establishing familiarity with shared processes
2.      Relational - Improvement of unconscious dynamics; engendering a sense of common purpose and commitment
3.      In/Out Groups - Tackling the barriers between ethnic and social formations or competitive groups within the team.
4.      Culture - Building a teamwork ethos in larger organizations.


If team building is viewed as a commodity, as a product to be purchased from a supplier, then it is unlikely to have any lasting value. Having an away day, playing games or doing fun things will generally lead to lasting and improved collective performance only in the context of a good plan, where events are designed to meet specific objectives and outcomes. In fact, having an away day without good design is taking a gamble - it may be a diversion, a waste of time, or even damage the ongoing development of real teamwork. 


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